The importance of Gender Equality

By Kealan Finnegan

As a fundamental human right, gender equality is a necessity in and of itself. Yet, the ongoing inequality that exists between women and men, and girls and boys, is detriment to a more prosperous and sustainable world.

Numerous studies have found that improving gender equality would have significant economic, social and political advantages, benefitting from new ideas, innovation, and labour. Currently, men hold 75 percent of the world’s parliamentary seats and 73 percent of managerial positions. The International Labour Organisation estimates that it will take 75 years to make the world one that is truly gender equal, if we are to continue the existing rate of progress. That is why taking action now is vital.

In the short-term, affirmative action such as guaranteeing a minimum proportion of women are represented in the workplace, and furthermore in high-level jobs and positions of decision-making, can help to address misbalances. But ultimately a systemic change is required. That means changes to mindset, where women are often viewed as care givers, sometimes forced into marriage, and nearly always underrepresented, which corresponds to worse education and career outcomes, further perpetuating unequal hiring practices, and the cycle goes on.

Different cultures, beliefs and practices around the world have given rise to varying levels of inequalities between countries and regions. The UK has by no means achieved gender equality but is recognised by all prominent indexes and reports as being ahead of India on the issue. For example, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2019-2020 (which measures the extent of gender-based gaps in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment) ranks India 112th globally with the UK ranked 21st.

International cooperation can help to address the problem by sharing views, practices, and goals that can push and pull countries and regions into action. That is why the UKIBC is delighted to be one of over 100 partners to the British High Commission’s ‘Pledge for Progress’ campaign, a commitment to promote gender equality and take practical steps to tackle gender challenges in India. The campaign, launched on 5th November, aims to empower organisations and individuals to build a gender-equal society through five key commitments:

  • Lead: using our platforms to amplify the voices of women leaders, within our organisations and beyond.
  • Represent: seeking gender diverse representation when hosting and participating in panels and roundtables.
  • Embed: striving to include gender analysis in the design, implementation and evaluation of our activities.
  • Include: making our organisations great places for people of all genders to work and ensuring our internal policies fulfil that aim.
  • Mobilise: working as a collective of gender equality champions, and developing and sharing best practice to together implement this pledge.

As the WEF Report details, in India, only around one quarter of women are in the formal workplace and only 14% of board members are women, both amongst the lowest rates in the world. Furthermore, female estimated earned income is just one-fifth of male income, also ranking among the world’s lowest.

The situation is more positive in terms of education gender gaps. From primary to tertiary education, the share of women attending school is slightly larger than the share of men. Yet, a large difference persists for literacy rate; only two-thirds of women are literate vs 82% of men. Moreover, female political representation is low: women make up only 14% of the parliament and 23% of the cabinet.

Among the 153 countries studied in the WEF Report, India is the only country where the economic gender gap is larger than the political gender gap, highlighting the need for greater equality in the workplace in particular.

Likewise, there are significant improvements for the UK to make. Women make up: just over 1 in 20 chief executives of FTSE 100 companies; 21% of national newspaper editors; 34% of MPs; 39% of secondary headteachers, and 30% of university vice-chancellors. (All figures from the 2020 Sex and Power Index from the Fawcett Society, a women’s rights and equality charity.) These facts, representing business, media, government, education and research, are proof of the underutilisation of women in all facets of society and particularly in decision-making roles.

Increasing representation of women in all these areas, including those positions in public spheres, is important and can help to generate attitudinal shifts both within the home and in the workplace and broader society. Educating children from an early age about the importance of gender equality could be a meaningful start in that direction too. Schemes such as those by BT India and JCB India to support girls’ education are good examples of ongoing projects helping to make a difference.

Making progress often starts at home and the UKIBC will continue to work towards and uphold a gender-equal society in-house and support our members and clients in the UK and in India, including through our Socio-Economic Impact initiative and the Pledge for Progress.

You can read more on the pledge for progress here and how to get involved.

Read more on the UK company programmes supporting India’s Sustainable Development Goals, including those working towards SDG 5 Gender Equality, here.


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